Lesson 15: Parliamentary procedure and non-political governance

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    Tyler Hogan

    Parliamentary procedure a the method by which groups of people in organized bodies make decisions. It includes rules, customs, and ethics designed to ensure fair and honest rule of the majority with respect for the minority. It is frequently used by legislatures at all levels of government, as well a private groups such as corporate boards, non-profit organizations, clubs, societies, civic groups, and many others.

    One of the most famous examples of parliamentary procedure is found in the popular book Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules are commonly used in non-governmental settings, and cover almost every aspect of how a meeting should be run, from how to call a meeting to order, to who may speak or make motions at any given time, how the notes (or “minutes”) of a meeting should be recorded, how to handle debates on any issue, and many other topics. People who are experts in these procedures are called “parliamentarians.”

    U.S. Army Major Henry Martyn Robert published Robert’s Rules of Order in 1876 after being asked to lead a church-wide meeting, where he felt woefully unprepared and lost control of the meeting amidst bickering attendees. He then developed his manual in an attempt to bring order and productivity to his church and other organizations in which he participated. (You can read more here.)

    While most of us will never become elected government officials, all of us are likely to hold a leadership role of some sort in our lifetime. There’s great value in understanding how different organizations make decisions and get things done. It may not be “government” as in the “body politic,” but it’s still “governing.” So here’s your question: pick an organization of which you or your family are a member (it could be a church, YMCA, sports team, animal shelter, or any other club or organized group) and find out how it is governed. Does it have a board? A CEO or Executive Director? A national organization they’re a part of? Who’s in charge of what? How do they run their meetings? Do they use Robert’s Rules? Tell us what you find out about their governance below.

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